Review: Longing for Wisdom

Longing for wisdom: the message of the maxims
Allyson Szabo
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, 2008
9781438239767

General books about paganism are about as common as anything now. Books relating to reconstruction and revival traditions are somewhat rare, but not impossible to find. Books giving a truly pagan perspective on andcient philosophy and how to bring that into modern life are truly rare. I can think of very few titles worth noting. Which is why, despite its being outside my usual traditions, Longing for Wisdom is certainly going to be a book to see much use from me.

The Delphic maxim best known in the modern world is Know Thyself, but there are many more discovered from around the ancient Greek world. In this text Szabo takes many (bot not all) of the maxims and examines them from both an ancient Hellenic standpoint as well as how they can be applied to modern life. Phrases such as “give a pledge and ruin is near” might not make as much sense without the context that the pledge is of oneself to pay off a debt. Anyone who’s racked up a lot on their credit cards and unsure of how to pay them off without filing for bankruptcy could well understand the message behind such a statement. Among other maxims covered in the book are “respect yourself,” “do not wrong the dead,” “teach a youngster,” “honor the hearth,” and “worship the gods.”

Several of the maxims include reflections and meditations one can contemplate when learning about a particular maxim. These exercises take these phrases away from the intellectual consideration and make them real to the practitioner. In order to fully internalize a new world view (or perhaps reinforce beliefs already present), this is the most direct action one can take on that path.

The maxims certainly can apply to other pre-Christian cultures as well. Both my Kemetic and Heathen sides (which aren’t really in opposition) were nodding in agreement to many of the maxims presented and brought to some new ideas thanks to Szabo’s commetary.

Through both her own academic and personal study, Szabo has done a fine job placing the maxims into a modern practice. This book can easily become a good reference as well as a source for inspiration and meditation. She herself states that you can either read the book straight through, or select a maxim at random and simply read that small chapter. If you’re of a contemplative or philosophical slant to your practices, you’d do well to pick up this book.

Five stars.